May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. and the week of May 14 – May 20 is Mental Health Awareness Week in Europe. Over the years this week has become a firmer fixture on calendars with a focus on different issues every year. And this year’s focus is stress.

Calling in sick in the work with colds, coughs, flu, broken bones is socially acceptable occurrence. But what about calling in sick when we are mentally fatigued? There is still stigma around mental health and mental wellbeing, even more so people feel concern that they will be judged or held back professionally if they talk about it openly. Mental Health Foundation (UK) notes that:

“Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this.

By tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide.”

As part of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Mental Health Foundation in the U.K. carried out a survey of over 4500 people about stress at the workplace. According to The Times the survey found that:

“28 per cent of those aged 18 to 38 said they were expected to power through stress at work, compared with 12 per cent of those aged between 53 and 71.”

Richard Grange, a spokesman for the Mental Health Foundation, noted to The Times:

“The mental health impact of work can follow us home. A good job where we feel secure and supported can boost our mental health. But poor and insecure working conditions undermine good mental health.”

Hence this year Mental Health Awareness Week calls for change in the way mental health and wellbeing is treated, and encouraging new rules that stress and mental health risks are treated as seriously as physical health and wellbeing.

In addition, to bring awareness to May as Mental Health Month in the U.S. Headspace, a digital service that provides guided meditation and mindfulness training, writes:

“In any given year, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness, but only 41% receive any type of mental health service. Many of them are also keeping it a secret from work”

Being expected to work through stress and not being able to communicate about the mental health with employer is neither good for the employee or the business. To improve this situation and change the stigma around mental health we must create “a better framework for taking care of our minds at work.” The World Health Organization reported that “if treatment for mental health wasn’t scaled up, the world would lose 12 billion workdays to depression and anxiety disorders by 2030.” Employees that suffer from stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression are less productive than happy employees; the research has shown that happy employees are “12% more productive than unhappy ones”. Hence it is important for both, the employee and the company, to change the stigma around the mental health and encourage the employees to take care of their mental health. And the times are changing; the smaller and larger companies are stepping up and supporting mental health.

One of the examples is Barclays, who started their This is Me campaign to encourage employees to tell their stories of their mental health. It started with nine employees and now campaign has grown so much that Barclays partnered with the City of London’s Lord Mayor’s Appeal, Mind, Business Healthy, and the City Mental Health Alliance to launch This is Me in the City. By May 2017 over 115 organisations had registered their interest with 22 directly deploying campaign activities, representing over 400k employees. From nine to thousands, it just goes to show as Headspace accordingly notes, “When managers support wellness initiatives, employees feel more supported” and are open and willing to talk about their mental health and improve it.

Some of the many ways how companies can improve mental health in the workplace is by adding mindfulness and breathwork training to their wellness and wellbeing programs, and many are already doing so. Mindfulness and conscious breathing have shown to improve wellbeing and reduce stress levels, it “also improves compassion and resilience, improving relationships in the office and how employees respond to difficult situations.”

You can read more on how we can change the ways how we respond to difficult and rather stressful situations on My Good Planet here; and you can find breathwork exercises to ease your mind and body into more relaxed state here. My Good Planet hopes that they will help you and inspire you to talk more openly about mental health not just in your workplace but with your friends and around your family’s dinner table. Break the stigma and tell your story.

Baiba Šustere

Baiba Šustere is a writer whose work focuses on mindfulness, health and wellbeing.